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The government is not just in Washington

The Cheney Administration’s policies affect all of us all the time. I know that. But it feels different when it’s personal.

I lead a sheltered life, there’s no question about that. Anyone who looks at my flickr photo set, which swaps in and out on this blog, can see just how sheltered it is. But the first faint corrosions of the zone of destruction are starting to touch even me.

One of my in-laws has led a long and full life, and has reached the age where her bones are not so much bones as a loose aggregation of calcium and hope. Without her regular dose of Fosamax, she can (and does) develop hairline fractures just from walking. Fosamax is expensive. The new prescription drug bill is so useless that it is still considerably cheaper for her to buy the medicine in Canada, as she’s been doing for years. The Fosamax sold in Canada–at least the stuff she’s been getting–is shipped there from New Jersey and repackaged for the Canadian market.

A few weeks ago, suddenly her Fosamax didn’t arrive. After some flapping around, it emerged that US Customs had intercepted this package of illegal drugs. They just stopped the shipment. They didn’t do anything, at least not so’s any of us noticed, to make sure that patients didn’t get sick or die because of their actions. Except for the fact that nobody showed up in a bulletproof vest to throw this white-haired lady in the slammer, she might as well have been sneaking heroin into the country.

If globalization is such a good thing, why is it bad for her to buy drugs from Canada? One argument the congressional stooges of the pharmaceutical industry have made is that nobody except the US knows how to make safe drugs. Even granting that ridiculous proposition, why are drugs that are good enough for New Jersey not good enough for the rest of us?

It’s obvious to everybody by now (it is, isn’t it?) that the purpose of the prescription drug bill was purely to protect corporate profits. That can actually be a legitimate goal. A noncompetitive industry, in the strict economic sense, may have so much social value that it’s worth subsidizing. Japanese rice growers and Swiss milk farmers come to mind.

The US pharmaceutical industry doesn’t fit the paradigm in any way, shape, or form. It has had the highest profits in recent years of just about any sector except oil. (Speaking as a sheltered person who owns drug stocks, trust me on this.) Drug execs keep pissing and moaning about research and development costs. The lion’s share of R&D that’s not a sure thing is paid out of government grants. A lot of drug company-funded R&D involves stuff like figuring out ways to repackage patented drugs and extend the patent just before it runs out. The really big costs for drug companies are advertising. You know what? I have a real hard time feeling sorry for the poor drug giants creaking under their huge burdens.

But I am furious on a whole deeper level, now that the cruelty of protecting vast profits has hurt a friend of mine.

The other faint touch of corrosion involves Iraq. Anyone who’s read this blog knows that I’m anguished about everything that US policies cause in the Middle East. Everything.

Well, a couple of years ago I met a young man, a buddy of a relative. He’s a friendly guy with a blond buzz cut, a quick smile, and a roll-on-the-floor sense of what’s funny. He’d qualified as a school teacher by entering the Reserve and using some of their programs that help people better themselves. When I met him, he’d been teaching school (I think it was third grade) for a few years, was married, and had young children. He’s not stupid. The minute the Shrub got elected selected in 2000, he got out of the Reserve.

You know where this is headed. He got called up. Under emergency regulations of some kind of other, that can happen any time for five years after you get out. With a few weeks left to go on his five years, he got called up. He’s driving one of those insufficiently armored targets on the Baghdad Road right now. He’d been doing it for way too long, and was due to go home August 1st. A few days before that, Rumsfeld decided that those particular pawns had to stay in his hellish game for another four months. I think they got four days’ notice. I guess cannon fodder doesn’t need weeks or months to make arrangements for the rest of its life.

You’ll notice that another four months keeps the troops there till December first, and after whatever it is that happens in early November. No doubt, when someone was figuring out how many US soldiers had to stay so that a few thousand could be brought home for the TV cameras in, say, September or October, somebody suddenly saw they’d be a few thousand short.

So now my friend is still driving on the Baghdad Road.

I wonder if he ever has that great big blue-eyed smile any more. Maybe when he talks to his family now and again. Although, if he’s anything like me, talking to his family will just make it hurt more. All I can say is that he hasn’t been killed yet. I hope to God it stays that way.